Education has been on the front line of COVID-19. For six months now, teachers around the world have been navigating education systems affected by school closures, adapting and improvising to keep their students learning.
Even as many countries usher their students back into classrooms, with all the fresh challenges that entails, inspiration can be found in the examples of teachers who rose to meet the occasion. They remind us that teachers are more than just conduits for knowledge. They are a vital lifeline for their students, now and during whatever is next.
Remote learning without internet
The challenge faced by Fransiskus Xaverius Faima, a teacher from Indonesia, is a familiar one: how can teachers and students connect if many are not connected to the internet? Internet coverage in Indonesia is fairly high - around 66 percent of people have access - but connectivity rarely stretches beyond urban hubs. While schools are closed, students in remote communities like Faimau’s may not be getting any education at all. Faimau from the Kecil Fatutasu elementary school in East Nusa Tenggara, now travels for hours each day to set up small learning groups. He takes a few students at a time through lessons, gathered around his single laptop.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, responding to the pandemic has required a creative approach. In West Papua, teachers are working with education consultants to design offline curriculums, printing and distributing materials that creatively integrate students’ home surroundings into their lessons. A simple pot of boiling water, for example, can teach a student much about physics and mathematics.
For Faimau, all this extra effort is simply part of a teacher’s duty. Education, he understands, works best when it is consistent: “children have to keep learning because if we just leave, they will go back to square one.” His ad-hoc classes may not be able to offer his students everything they would get in a traditional classroom, but, for now, keeping them engaged is enough.
Delivering free school meals
Whilst widespread internet access in the UK has encouraged a national transition to online learning, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges of a different sort. The Western Primary School in Grimsby is situated in a deprived part of town, where four out of ten students receive free school meals. For many, it’s the only good meal they’re guaranteed all day. Zane Powels, the assistant head teacher at Western Primary, recognised the impact lockdown could have on these students.
Five weeks after schools in England closed, Powels had already delivered more than two thousand meals to students, walking door-to-door, laden with lunch packages containing sandwiches, fruit and snacks. This also allowed him to check up on the children’s wellbeing whilst locked-down at home.
5 weeks into lockdown and I have walked over 125miles delivering nearly 2000 school meals with a combined weight of over 1100kg. More importantly, children and parents from our school have been supported through these tough times and will continue to be ‘The school that cares’, tweets Powels.
Western Primary is not unique – the centrality of teachers and schools to students’ lives has been thrown into sharp relief during the pandemic, and Powels exemplifies the sense of responsibility felt by teachers everywhere.
Teaching in a truck
In Guanajuato, Mexico, a teacher known only as Nay, recently won widespread praise on Twitter after a picture emerged of her holding a makeshift lesson in the back of her red pick-up truck. She and a student, both masked, sat around a small table, pouring over school work. Nay is an elementary school teacher who specialises in working with children with disabilities such as autism.
Just over half of people in Mexico have access to the internet. Aware that many of her pupils cannot get online or even have books, she converted her truck into a mobile classroom and travelled for hours a day to sit with them in person. While Nay is insistent that her extra efforts are nothing special, her story does highlight how the pandemic has hit vulnerable students the hardest. In these difficult times, it’s those students who occupy their teachers’ thoughts the most.
These three stories highlight what all teachers know: nothing beats being there in person. The situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, and the promise of a return to ‘normality’ may be on the horizon. But until then, let’s take inspiration from those teachers who are doing everything to be there for their students.
Cover image published in thejakartapost.com courtesy of teacher Fransiskus Xaverius Faimau.